Interview by Mike Woitalla
Shattuck-Saint Mary's, a Minnesota day and boarding prep school, became famous for its hockey "Center of Excellence" that has spawned more than 50 NHL draft picks since the program’s inception in 1992. In 2005, Shattuck-Saint Mary enlisted Tim Carter to create a soccer version. Its alumni include U.S. international Teal Bunbury and this year Carter’s U-18 team finished U.S. Soccer Development Academy runner-up to the New York Red Bulls. We spoke to Carter, who served as U.S. Soccer’s Director of Youth Development in 1995-2001, about his unique program and the evolution of American youth soccer.
SOCCER AMERICA: What are the advantages of having your players in residency?
TIM CARTER: We’re getting together six to eight times a week for training in one form or another -- team training four or five times a week, plus strength and conditioning training, technique training. In addition to that we meet for video analysis.
The other beauty when you’re under one roof, you have a lot of opportunities to talk about how to approach things, whether it be from a tactical perspective, from a team dynamic perspective, a growth and development perspective. You have a lot of opportunities to fill in the gaps that you don’t have elsewhere.
SA: It also enables you to attract players from around the country and the globe -- SSM’s current U-18 roster has players from 14 states and nine nations, four continents …
TIM CARTER: The game is played differently in different parts of the world and different parts of this country because of cultural and historical influences, and different coaching. We have to bring them together, so we have to be very good at communicating and players have to have a dialogue with the coach -- there’s no such thing as a dumb question.
Having players with so many different backgrounds is enjoyable. They add to the game. We don’t want to take players’ qualities away, we want to add to them.
SA: How about off-field acclimation?
TIM CARTER: I have to give credit to the teachers and the school environment. This school has been in business for 155 years … There is a great deal of care and thought put into how to bring people in from around the world -- all these personalities and all this diversity -- and get them to function and live together, grow together, learn together, play together, compete together. It’s an amazing type of environment. It’s something that any pro club would love to have complement its on-field efforts.
SA: Do your players also play in interscholastic competition?
TIM CARTER: The teams we have here full time in the Center of Excellence are either playing in the U.S. Development Academy, or with US Club Soccer or US Youth Soccer.
SA: So the Development Academy's decision last year to prohibit players from high school ball didn’t affect your program …
TIM CARTER: It was never an issue. And it was certainly something I would have supported years ago. I think soccer played interscholastically is a wonderful thing. But I think from a growth and development standpoint for the individual, there’s more regression than progression.
SA: Why does a prep school have “Centers of Excellence?”
TIM CARTER: Enrollment. They found a niche. Having something to offer in addition to academics, programs that provide a specializing for young athletes who are very passionate happened to be the group they went with. First it was ice hockey and now there’s figure skating, golf and boys and girls soccer.
SA: You joined the Development Academy in 2010. Was reaching the U-18 final three years down the road something you imagined at the time?
TIM CARTER: If you asked me last January, “Do you think this group of kids will be in the championship game July?” -- I would have looked at you and said, “I have no clue.”
There are so many factors when adolescents. There’s the injury factor, the chemistry factor. I’ve had teams with tremendous talent that have underachieved and I’ve had teams with less talent but overachieved.
All I can go by is let’s continue to do, year-in and year-out, the things that we know that work in development.
And I don’t have a 1,000 kids running around in our program. We’re starting at U-16. Part of our thing is attracting people who want come to our program. Scouting is necessary. Then the recruitment process follows.
SA: Does your program's ability to attract players from around the nation and the world benefit from the school’s financial aid?
TIM CARTER: Financial aid is used throughout the entire school. Those athletes within the Centers of Excellence are treated very much like the entire student body. Parents apply, they have to go through a process and analysis on their ability to contribute to their child’s education. The school looks at it and attempts to assistant families based on the analysis.
SA: From 1995 to 2001, you served as U.S. Soccer’s Director of Youth Development. Can you compare the Federation’s efforts on improving the youth game then to the current state?
TIM CARTER: I was pretty naïve then. Project 2010 was driving a lot of it. The politics of the game at that time created some huge challenges. There was a different mindset. We ran into a lot of headwalls. At times, I became more of a lightening rod than anything.
We started the U-14 national team program. We were trying to do everything with ODP, which for many years was our main pathway to identify players, develop players, and get them to national teams. That was our main route.
While ODP is great, really the majority of the development work has to happen at the club level. That’s where it’s going to get done. The problem ODP had was you couldn’t take these players on a day-in and day-out basis. The clubs have to be the catalyst. We were trying ways to accelerate that process.
At the time I was involved, state youth associations were very much in the forefront and sometimes I thought that the clubs needed to have a larger say and we tried to work on that. But politically that was a really pretty big deal at that time.
We tried to be consensus-builders in Project 2010. There was an attempt to work with all the other stakeholders but I think politically that was too much too ask for. The Federation eventually decided it really had to take a bold step, with the Development Academy. …
SA: The Academy was launched in 2007 …
TIM CARTER: I can see some of the vestiges of what we attempted to do with the scouting program folding out through the Academy. I can see some of the other things we attempted to do folding out in other areas.
We were the first wave. Obviously, that first wave was not as sophisticated as where it is now. U.S. Soccer needed to be directly vested in youth development. The Academy had to happen to get us where we are today and to keep us progressing.